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One hundred and fifty ways the nanny state is good for us

Some manufacturers resist making changes that will improve the safety or efficacy of their products. Image from

In Australia, anyone who supports rules and regulations that make products safer or improve public health can expect to come under attack from critics arguing they’re restricting freedom and turning the country into a “nanny state”.

These “nanny state” critics are everywhere and they’re superficially persuasive. After all, who wants government to tell them how to live their lives? But scratch the surface and you’ll discover nanny state critics are frequently backed by powerful vested interests, like the tobacco industry arguing against plain packaging on cigarettes, or the secretive PR outfit know as the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) arguing against government per se.

Nanny state critics are almost always self-interested. They’re rarely motivated by the freedoms they purport to defend. And invariably their arguments crumble under scrutiny.

Personal liberties

In May, the IPA’s director of climate change policy and intellectual property and free trade unit Tim Wilson wrote an opinion piece that encapsulates the organisation’s opposition to nanny state regulation:

incremental attacks on our freedom to choose are single steps down a longer road to remove individual choice and responsibility.

Wilson wrote of the “rising groundswell of Australians who are sick of increasing local, state and federal government regulations of their choices” and denied that people like him want to “selfishly put their wants above the safety and happiness of others”.

Public health interventions are routinely ridiculed as the interventionist screechings from the nanny state. Image from

Wilson also warned that we should all “learn to manage risk through our choices” and that it is not “the job of government to coddle us from the world’s evils, avoid risk and use taxes, laws and regulations to either steer or direct our behaviour”.

The IPA has academic pretentions and calls its associates “fellows”. But it has not the first idea about academic principles such as funding transparency, refusing to name its corporate sponsors (they include British American Tobacco).

The IPA has an infamous list of 75 policies and institutions it would like to see abolished. These include the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, repealing renewable energy targets, plain cigarette packaging and the alcopops tax, and the end of mandatory food labelling.

This isn’t surprising. I was a board member of Choice magazine for 20 years, and lost count of the number of times manufacturers staunchly resisted voluntarily making changes to their dangerous, ineffective or substandard products.

Public good

Changes to laws, regulations, mandatory product standards and public awareness campaigns have saved countless lives over the years:

Nanny state regulation #107: mandatory safety standards for children’s nightwear. Image from
  • Before the advent of mandatory shatterproof safety glass for showers, many people suffered major lacerations and occasionally died after bathroom accidents

  • Before 2008, it was legal for fast-buck retailers to sell children’s nightwear that could easily catch fire: many children were hideously burnt and scarred for life

  • Prior to the introduction of safety guidelines, at least three Australian children were reportedly disemboweled after sitting on swimming pool skimmer box covers shaped like children’s potty.

And the list goes on.

With these, as with nearly every campaign to clip the wings of unethical manufacturers, there was protracted resistance.

Similar attacks once rained down on Edwin Chadwick, the architect of the first Public Health Act in England in 1848. He proposed the first regulatory measures to control overcrowding, drinking water quality, sewage disposal and building standards.

In response, the Times thundered:

We prefer to take our chance with cholera and the rest than be bullied into health. There is nothing a man hates so much as being cleansed against his will, or having his floors swept, his walls whitewashed, his pet dung heaps cleared away.

And yet on the 150th anniversary of the Public Health Act, a British Medical Journal poll saw his invention of civic hygiene, and all of its regulations, voted as the most significant advance in public health and medicine since 1840.

Counting the ways the nanny is good for us

Next time you hear someone attack “the nanny state” for intruding on personal liberty or being a heinous burden on business, here’s a long list of examples that show how nanny state coddlings and protections have paid off. I stopped at 150 but I could have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled the list.

Nanny state regulation #12: mandatory swimming pool fences. Image from

We don’t hear much from the IPA and its ilk on any of these because they are all immensely popular, taken-for granted safeguards on our health, safety and quality of life. Because of them, Australia is one of the healthiest nations on earth. And other countries are climbing over themselves to emulate many of these as best practice.

So a public invitation to the IPA: which of these 150 heinous intrusions on people’s freedoms and the right to unbridled commerce does it wish to see abolished?

  1. Access to drugs: Drug scheduling
  2. Access to drugs: Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
  3. Access to health care: Compulsory third party motor injury
  4. Access to health care: Medicare
  5. Alcohol control: Minimum legal drinking age
  6. Alcohol control: Responsible serving of alcohol
  7. Building standards: Balustrade and railing height regulations
  8. Building standards: Elevator, standards & inspection
  9. Building standards: Fire safety building regulations
  10. Building standards: Floor space provision (preventing overcrowding)
  11. Building standards: Mandatory smoke alarms
  12. Building standards: Mandatory swimming pool fences
  13. Building standards: Maximum water temperature regulation
  14. Building standards: Safety glass standards
  15. Building standards: Swimming pool skimmer box standards
  16. Builing standards: Mandatory Residual Current Devices (electricity)
  17. Cancer control: Sunsmart regulations for schools and daycare
  18. Child protection: Background checks for staff working with children
  19. Child protection: Child pornography laws
  20. Child protection: Mandatory reporting of child protection incidents
  21. Congenital malformation prevention: Folate fortification
  22. Dental health: Fluoridation of water
  23. Disability: Disability parking permits
  24. Disease control: Mosquito control
  25. Disease investigation: Cancer registries
  26. Drug control: Pseudoephidrine pharmacy controls
  27. Drug regulation: Illicit drug regulation
  28. Drug safety and efficacy: pharmaceutical drug regulation
  29. Emergency services: 24/7/365 emergency service phone lines
  30. Emergency services: 24/7/365 poisons information service
  31. Environmental health: Backyard burning controls
  32. Environmental health: Burial standards
  33. Environmental health: Controls (air quality standards) for industrial emissions to air
  34. Environmental health: Controls on industrial discharges into rivers
  35. Environmental health: Emission controls on cars
  36. Environmental health: Lead in paint banned
  37. Environmental health: Lead in petrol banned
  38. Environmental health: Legionella control standards for cooling towers
  39. Environmental health: Petrol and diesel fuel standards (for emission controls)
  40. Environmental health: Planning regulations around open space
  41. Environmental health: Recycled water standards for reuse applications
  42. Environmental health: Septic tank standards
  43. Environmental health: Sewage discharge standards
  44. Environmental health: Stormwater drainage
  45. Farm safety: Tractor rollover harm reduction
  46. Food safety: Abattoir standards
  47. Food safety: Food additive labelling
  48. Food safety: Food allergy labelling
  49. Food safety: Food handling standards
  50. Food safety: Food standards (many)
  51. Food safety: Genetically modified organisms regulation
  52. Food safety: Pasteurisation of milk
  53. Food safety: Publication of filthy restauarant names
  54. Food safety: Regulation of food additives
  55. Food safety: Regulation of food store refrigerator temperatures
  56. Health promotion: Mandatory physical education in schools
  57. Health promotion: Mandatory school canteen standards
  58. Health promotion: Rights to breast feed in public places
  59. Infection control: “blood rule” in sport
  60. Infection control: Autoclaving of dental equipment
  61. Infection control: Bans on public spitting, urination, defecation
  62. Infection control: Chlorinated water supplies
  63. Infection control: Dog faeces disposal
  64. Infection control: Drinking Water Quality A124 standards
  65. Infection control: Immunisation standards and infrastructure
  66. Infection control: Infection control standards and protocols
  67. Infection control: Legalisation of brothels
  68. Infection control: Mandatory immunisation for health care workers
  69. Infection control: Mandatory sewerage and sanitation in urban areas
  70. Infection control: Notifiable disease laws
  71. Infection control: Sex worker health checks
  72. Infection control: Sharps disposal and blood borne virus controls
  73. Infection control: Skin penetration legislation re hairdressers, dentists, tatooists, body piercing
  74. Infection control: Veterinary and animal husbandry standards
  75. Infection control: Water standards in public swimming pools
  76. Information control: Advertising standards
  77. Mental health: Mental health scheduling
  78. Occupational safety: Workers’ compensation
  79. Occupational health: Asbestos building ban
  80. Occupational health: Dust standards
  81. Occupational health: Hard hats
  82. Occupational health: Harness standards
  83. Occupational health: Noise standards
  84. Occupational health: Personal protective equipment regulations
  85. Occupational health: Scaffolding standards
  86. Occupational health: Smoke free workplaces
  87. Occuptational health: Asbestos removal standards
  88. Product safety: Condom standards
  89. Product safety: Controls, bans on lead (other heavy metals) used in toys
  90. Product safety: Myriad of standards, bans, recalls etc.
  91. Professional standards: Childcare facilities
  92. Professional standards: Continuing medical education
  93. Professional standards: Licensing of healthcare facilities
  94. Professional standards: Medical and allied health worker registration
  95. Professional standards: Nursing home regulation
  96. Public amenity: Noise regulations
  97. Public safety: Agricultural and Industrial chemicals regulation
  98. Public safety: Child resistant cigarette lighters
  99. Public safety: Child resistant medical packaging
  100. Public safety: Design rules for babies’ cots to reduce the risk of asphyxiation
  101. Public safety: Dog licensing
  102. Public safety: Engineering standards for roads, bridges
  103. Public safety: Extraordinary powers under the Public Health Act to deal with emergencies
  104. Public safety: Gun laws
  105. Public safety: Hair dryer standards to prevention bath electrocution
  106. Public safety: Hazard reduction in child playgrounds
  107. Public safety: Nightwear for children mandatory standards
  108. Public safety: Pesticides registration and control of use
  109. Public safety: Poisons Act
  110. Public safety: Poisons labelling
  111. Public safety: Quarantine Act
  112. Public safety: Reduced ignition propensity cigarettes
  113. Public safety: Regulations around provision of footpaths
  114. Public safety: Safety standards for fitness and leisure equipment
  115. Public safety: Sunglass standards
  116. Public safety: Total fire bans
  117. Public safety: Toy standards
  118. Radiation control: Carriage and transport of radiated material
  119. Radiation control: Dental x-ray equipment standards
  120. Radiation control: Sun bed bans
  121. Radiation control: Uniformity in the control of radiation use
  122. Road safety: Air bags in cars
  123. Road safety: Bicycle helmets
  124. Road safety: Breath alcohol ignition interlock devices for repeat drink drive offenders
  125. Road safety: Double demerit points (driving)
  126. Road safety: Drink driving penalties
  127. Road safety: Energy absorbing steering columns
  128. Road safety: Graduated driver licensing schemes
  129. Road safety: infant and child vehicle seat restaints
  130. Road safety: Mandatory motor cycle helmets
  131. Road safety: Motor cycle helmet standards
  132. Road safety: Motor vehicle design standards
  133. Road safety: Pedestrian crossings
  134. Road safety: Provisional and learner drivers’ licensing
  135. Road safety: Random breath testing
  136. Road safety: Seat belts in cars, school buses
  137. Road safety: Speed limits
  138. Road safety: Speed limits near schools
  139. Road safety: Standards for medical assessment of fitness to drive
  140. Road safety: Third brake lights on cars
  141. Road safety: Traffic regulation in general
  142. Road safety: Vehicle roadworthiness inspections
  143. Road safety: Dedicated bicycle lanes
  144. Tobacco control: Health warnings on tobacco products
  145. Tobacco control: Outlawing “light and mild” descriptors on tobacco
  146. Tobacco control: Plain packaging of tobacco
  147. Tobacco control: Smoke free public transport
  148. Tobacco control: Tobacco sales to minors legislation
  149. Tobacco control: Tobacco tax
  150. Violence control: Criminalising domestic violence

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